by Steve Delanty
wners of old cars and trucks that came with 6
volt electrical systems know what a
drag 6 volts can be!
Dim lights, slow cranking, weak spark, replacing generator
brushes as a maintenance item, etc .
he cure is obvious.
convert to 12 volts!
Usually it's pretty easy to convert to 12
Install a nice 12
volt alternator and regulator from the wrecking yard, change the
battery, all the light bulbs, the windshield wiper motor, and the ignition coil.
motor usually works real nicely on 12 volts.
he problem is what to do with the stock 6
volt gauges and radio? Often it's desirable
to retain these items and drop the 12 volts down to 6 volts to run them.
So how are You
gonna do that?
Part 1: Resistor
ne of the common ways to reduce the voltage is by using a resistor. A resistor
reduces voltage by an amount proportional to the value of the resistor (in Ohms) times
the current flow thru the resistor.
The formula (Ohms law) is:
voltage dropped across the resistor,
is the current thru the resistor in amps and
the value of the resistor in ohms.
You have a 6 volt radio that draws 3 amps.
You want run it on 12volts. Your 12 volt
system actually is at about
13.8v with the motor running and you want the radio to get
about 6.8 volts, which is roughly what the system voltage would be on a running 6 volt
You've got 13.8v,
but You want 6.8v on a device that draws 3 amps.
6.8v = 7v
need to drop
volts across the resistor at
I x R
, it follows that
R = V / I
and if we plug our numbers in we get
R = 7 / 3
ohms to get 6.8 volts on a radio that draws 3 amps.
2.33 ohms is kind of an odd
value, and You w
ill probably have to use 2.5 ohms, which would give 6.3 volts instead.
Ahh, but don't forget the resistor wattage rating!
The power drop across the resistor causes it to heat up, so we need to make sure the
resistor can handle the power load
without burning out. That's what the wattage rating is
In our example, we dropped
volts across the resistor at
amps, and since
W = V x I
, our resistor will convert
watts of power into heat. That means our resistor
must be rated for an
*absolute minimum* of 21 watts. A larger wattage resistor will run
cooler, and it's good practice to use a resistor rated for at least 50% higher wattage than
You expect to handle. For our radio example, I would use a 2.5
watt resistor to
do the jo
b. 21 watts is quite a bit of heat... think about how much heat a 25
Make sure that You mount voltage dropping resistors where they can't be
a fire hazard, or bake any nearby plastic or rubber parts!
Be safe, O.K?
ne of the
problems with using resistors is determining how much current Your
equipment draws so You can calculate the correct resistor value.
The easiest way is to
connect it to a 6
volt battery and connect an ammeter in series to measure the current it
ortunately, often the equipment doesn't draw a constant, steady amount of current.
A radio draws more current when the volume is turned way up than it does with the
A gas gauge may draw several times more current when the tank is full
t does when empty. If we go back to our radio example,
rather than drawing a
fairly constant 3 amps it's much more likely that it will draw a current that varies
considerably with radio loudness, and may constantly be varying between 2 and 4
f the current varies from 2 to 4 amps that means that with the 2.5 ohm
resistor we used in the example, the voltage to the radio actually varies from 3.8 to 8.8
This is not a good thing... What we really need is a resistor that varies it's value
nstantly and instantly with load changes so as to always keep a constant output
here's quite a few solid
state voltage regulators on the market that can be applied to
One of the simplest is the 780
6, a 6 volt, 1 amp regulator.
The part looks like this:
And on paper it looks like this:
are rugged, provide over
hut down, and will give a constant 6 volts output for
currents from 0 to 1 amp.
They are good for running low current 6
volt things like
If all Your gauges draw a total of over about 0.75amps, it's a good idea to use
more than one regulator with
one or two gauges connected on each regulator, or use an
output transistor to boost current. (Yeah, We'll get to that in a minute)
When using the
7806, it's a good idea to connect a small capacitor from the input pin to ground and
another from the output
pin to ground.
The value of the capacitors is
and any value from 0.1uF to 10uF (that's micro
Farads) @ 25volts or more will work just
fine. The capacitors help protect the regulator from electrical noise, and to stabilize the
nder certain load conditions. My favorite caps for this are 1uF, 35v.
Tantalums that look like:
And on the schematic:
o the schematic for the complete regulator circuit looks like:
he 7806 will make a little heat, and needs to be mounted on a s
mall heatsink to keep it
cool. A little dielectric grease smeared on the back of the regulator will help it conduct
it's heat to the heatsink. The heatsink can be a 3" square of aluminum, or a
commercially available piece like this one:
hese parts are
all readily available and if You have a radio shack nearby You can use
these part numbers:
1ea. 7806, (radio shack # RSU 1392008)
2ea. 1uF 35v tantalum capacitor (272
1ea. Heatsink grease (276
he most obvious flaw with the 7806 regulator is it's rather limited current output.
Unless You are only using it to power a couple gauges, 1 amp might not be enough.
The cure is to add a transistor to the output of the regulator.
This can increase the
output current capability to well over 10 amps using the right transistor and a large
There are many high power NPN transistors that will work fine, and I
often use a 2N5881 which looks like this:
he body of the transistor is the collector connection, so the case is always "hot",
directly connected to 12 volts. It is very important to make sure that the tran
can't contact any grounded chassis parts!
In order to insulate the transistor from the
heatsink, it's convenient to spend another $1.50 and use an insulating washer and
transistor socket like these:
usually add a resistor from the outp
ut to ground to keep the output
from floating a
little high under no
load conditions. It's not really
necessary most of the time, but the
part and it's schematic look like
o, here's the full schematic:
ote that this circuit uses a 7808
8volt regulator rather than the
This is because although the transistor
increases the output current of the regulator, it
volt drop caused by the transistors base
results in the actual
output voltage being approximately 5.3 volts, if a 7806 is used. By
using the 7808 instead you get a 7.3 volts output. This is at the upper end of what a 6
volt auto electrical system should have when the generator is running, so 7.3 volts is
fine. If You
would rather have 6.7 volts instead, you can drop the voltage 0.6 volts by
adding a 1N4002 diode in series with the input to the base of the transistor. The diode:
Put it in like this:
hat's the circuit I just built for my girlfriends '51 C
ruck. It puts out 6.8volts with
no load and 6.1volts with a full load of 10 amps.
The one I built doesn't have a large
enough heatsink to run 10 amps continuously, but can deliver over 6 amps continuous
with short bursts of well over 10 amps. I figure tha
t's plenty of juice to run all her 6volt
accessories... Here's what hers looks like from the back
And the front
o, that's about all there is to the regulators. The key to making the regulators work is
keeping them cool, so be sure to use a good hea
tsink and put a thin coat of silicone
grease on the regulator and transistor and any insulating hardware. Mount the heatsink
where it can get some air circulation, don't put it in an airtight box. Don't mount it where
the heat it generates can cause troubl
e for any plastic or rubber parts nearby.
Remember that the body
of the transistor and all the other parts are electrically "hot"
when the regulator is powered up, so make sure nothing can come in contact with it and
short anything out. It's a very good i
dea to put an inline fuse on the input side of the
regulator in case "something bad" happens.